Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VI.: SERGEANT RAYNE'S STORY. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm)
Return to Title Page for Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Chapter VI.: SERGEANT RAYNE'S STORY. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm) 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 1.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
SERGEANT RAYNE'S STORY.
I often passed an hour with the sergeant in his neat lodging; and if I went only to inquire after his health, or to ask some question which might be answered immediately, I frequently stood chatting till my brothers came to see what I was about. They, however, were generally my companions, for they loved, like other people, to hear the entertaining stories of battles, sieges, and shipwrecks, and the sadder accounts of the suffering and death attendant upon war, which our friend could relate. As he was as regular in his habits as when subject to regimental discipline, we always knew when we should find him at home. At a certain hour he rose and breakfasted; at a certain hour he took down his hat, hung it on a block and brushed it, and put it on sideways with a soldier-like air, and the people at the Arms knew what o'clock it was by the sergeant's taking his seat under the elm or beside the fire, according as the weather might be. Moving with the sun to the churchyard bench, as regularly as the shade on the dial, he would have been supposed ill or dead if a labourer returning through the stile to his dinner had missed him on a fine day. His landlady whispered to us that he was rather a particular old gentleman, though the most good-natured in the world when not put out of his way; and, indeed, if anything ever did make him look sour, it was his dinner not being ready to a moment. He did not care what was provided for him: he preferred a crust of bread at one o'clock to a goose at two. He could not have told anybody an hour after dinner what he had been eating; but if kept waiting five minutes, he could not recover it till the next morning. His hostess had half a dozen little children, and he was as kind to them as if he had been their grandfather, but warned them of his awful displeasure if they entered his room during his absence. If they came by invitation, well and good; he would do anything to amuse them. He would sing, tell stories, show them pictures, and even play at blind man's buff; though, as he said, it was not fair play with him as he had only one hand to catch the rogues with. Not a rough word was ever heard from him. I remember one of the little ones saying, “Show me how you will be angry if I meddle with your sword. Will you frown like Bonaparte in the picture?” “No,” said another “he will stamp and speak loud, as he told us his captain did when he was in a passion.” The sergeant snatched up his cane, and made his countenance so fierce in a moment, that the children did not know what to think of him. They stared at him in terror till he could not help laughing; and then, I dare say, resolved in their hearts never to set foot in his parlour without leave.
On the present occasion he exclaimed, as I entered the room with Frederick and Arthur,
“I can guess, Miss Lucy, what you and the young gentlemen are come for, and I am happy to see you. You want to hear the little story I promised you; and you shall be welcome to it.”
“I hope you are not busy?”
“Not at all. You are come just in right time. See, I had finished this chapter of my book, and I was putting the paper in when I heard your step in the passage.”
“I want to know,” said Frederick, who was remarkable for always going straight to the point, “I want to know where you were taken prisoner, and how you got home again, and how long it was ago. Lucy says you are going to tell her all about it, and that we may hear it too.”
“TO be sure you may, my dear boys; so sit down in the window-seat, and I will tell you. It was in Spain that I served at that time, you know, against the French. The armies had been drawing nearer to one another for a long while, and we all knew that there must be a terrible battle when they met. From the state of the roads, however, the whole army could not travel together, and when the van of both forces came in sight of each other, the rest were some miles in the rear. Both sides seemed much inclined for a skirmish, and there was pretty sharp fighting for the whole day before the grand battle. Often as I had been in action, I had never been wounded; but on this particular day, I felt a sort of certainty that I should be.”
“Had you never felt this before any other battle?”
“I think not so clearly; but it may only be that what happened made me take particular notice, and remember very well what my feelings had been. I mentioned this foreboding to a friend, however, and so I suppose I was somewhat struck by it.”
“And did he laugh at it, or call you a coward?”
“Neither the one nor the other, master. Very young soldiers, or men of hardened minds, may make light of the disasters of war, and call it cowardice to reflect upon them and prepare one's mind for them; but my friend was neither giddy nor reckless, and he knew me too well to fancy me a coward. We had fought side by side in many a battle, and I have nursed him when badly wounded; so that we were real friends, and not companions of the camp only. He advised me to ease my mind of all worldly concerns, and to prepare myself in other ways for whatever might happen, as he always did before a battle; so I told him where to find what little money I had, and some letters I had written to my mother and another person——”
“Who was that other person?” interrupted Frederick.
“Never mind who it was,” said I. “You should not ask such a question as that.”
“I have no objection, Miss Lucy, to tell you all. That other person was one to whom I had hoped to be married some time or other; but she was not bound to me, for I told her there was little prospect of my returning home; and if I did, I was afraid I should be very poor; and were getting on in life, and I could not bear the idea of preventing her being happy; so I begged she would not remain single for my sake. I had said this to her a long time before; and my letter on this occasion was to tell her that I still loved her as much as ever; and it was only to be sent in case of my death.—Well: we were very actively engaged all day without my taking any harm, while hundreds were falling round me. Late in the evening, when both parties were tired, and the fire slackened, I passed my friend as we were hastening forward for one other charge, and he called out ‘So you are safe, after all!’ ‘Safe after all,’ I replied, and left him behind. A minute after, a shot struck my right arm while the enemy was pressing round us. I could not defend myself; I was separated from my company, and, of course, taken prisoner.”
“In pain and alone, among foreigners and enemies!” I exclaimed. “How very miserable you must have been!”
“Not so much then as afterwards, Miss Lucy. You, who live in peace and quietness at home, can have no idea of the excitement of spirits there is in battle. One's heart is so full of courage, one's mind burns so with indignation at being made prisoner, and one has so much to think about, that there is no time to be truly miserable.. I felt no pain from my wound at that time. I did not even know that I was wounded, till I found I could not raise my arm.”
“Is that possible?”
“Very true, my dear, I assure you. I was hurried away, I scarcely know how, to one of the baggage-waggons, with many of the wounded besides: but they were all French; not one friendly face did I see. We were laid, one close upon another, on straw, and jolted away, over bad roads to a town where an hospital was established. Some of my companions were in dreadful pain, and their groans made me sick at heart. I now began to suffer much; but I wished above all things not to be spoken to; so I remained as quiet as if I were dead, and closed my eyes. If I could have shut my ears also, I should have escaped many a horrible dream which has startled me since. Many a night, even now. I hear those groans and oaths; and the tortured countenances I used to see often in a battle rise up before me.—Before day-break we reached the hospital; and I was really glad of it, though I knew well enough what was before me.”
“Did you feel sure that you must lose your arm?”
“Yes, master; I felt and saw that it was past cure.”
“And where you much afraid about it?”
“I had thought so much and so often about the chances of such an accident, that I was not taken by surprise; and I was already in so much pain that I was very willing to suffer more for the sake of being rid of it. I sat beside a fire, while one after another of my companions was taken to the surgeons. At last, after waiting an hour and a half, they were going to carry away the man who lay next beside me; but he was a coward, it seemed, and begged to be left. They had no time to waste, and so laid hold of me, and were going to carry me; but I soon showed them that I had the use of my legs at least, and walked as stoutly as any of them to where the surgeons were. They made quick work of it, and scarcely made a show of asking my leave.”
“But I suppose you would have given them leave?”
“I took care to do that. I held out my arm as soon as ever I saw the instruments.”
“And how did you—how could you bear it?”
“A sturdy spirit will carry one through a great deal, master. I am not sure that I should have borne it so well in England; but I was determined no enemy should wring a complaint out of me. So I was as still as a mouse the whole time; grasping the back of a chair with my other hand so hard that the blood came out at my finger nails. One of the surgeons observed this; and I heard him say that I was a sturdy fellow and fit for a soldier.'”
“Then the pain was very, very great?”
“Much greater than anybody can fancy who has not felt it, or indeed than anybody can fancy at all; for it is not the sort of thing that can be remembered; and I dare say I have little better notion of it at this moment than you have. But such as it was, it was soon over, and then I walked away to bed. There I paid dear for the effort I had made; and I deserved it, for my bravery was not of the right kind and could not last long.”
“Why, what happened?”
“When I was left alone, weak from pain, and still thrilling in every nerve, a tide of most bitter feelings rushed in upon me. Such a tumult of thoughts I never knew before or since. I hid my face under the bed-clothes, that nobody might disturb me; and there for an hour or two I suffered such agony of mind as I can give you no idea of. My pride gave way, and I felt myself as weak as an infant. In vain I told myself that this misfortune was only what I had expected,—only what every soldier is liable to. In vain I called to mind the boasting in which I had indulged before I left home, and the wish which in my youth I had felt for the glory of one honourable wound. This recollection awakened others which subdued me completely.”
“What were they?”
“It happened that the day before I left this place to join the army, the old clergyman, who lived here then, invited me to the parsonage to say farewell. After talking cheerfully to me about my profession, he went out with me as far as the gate: and there he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Remember, yours is a dangerous profession in more ways than one. You are not only liable to be sent early to another world, but to depart with false notions of glory in your head, and with pride and hatred in your heart.’ He pointed to the graves and went on, ‘See here what becomes of pride and enmity. There have been some of these whose hearts beat as high with various passions as yours will in your first battle. Now, all are humbled and all are still. So it will be a hundred years hence, with the youngest and the fiercest, with or against whom you are going to fight. They too will be humbled and stilled.’—The recollection of this circumstance now came back upon me clearly. I saw the church with the evening sunshine upon its windows. I saw the light flickering upon the smooth stems of the limes. I saw the graves, and also the venerable countenance and gray hair of my kind friend. I heard his voice and the voices of the children at their play. I could almost smell the flowers in his garden, and feel the pressure of his hand upon my shoulder. I lay weeping for many hours, till by thoughts of home, of my mother, and of other dear friends, my mind was prepared for still better thoughts. My Bible was in my pocket, (for I took care to have it always about me,) and there I found a better sort of courage than that of which I had been so proud.—I was soon glad to take some notice of my companions in the hospital; and we managed to be very cheerful and to converse a good deal, as I told you, Miss Lucy.”
“Did the friend you mentioned before know what had become of you? And what did he do with your money and your letters!”
“As he could learn nothing about me, he supposed that I was a prisoner; and he sent all that I had left behind me to my mother. It was not very long before she heard of me, but she had delivered the other letter I spoke of. I was sorry afterwards that I had ever written it.”
Nobody ventured to ask why; but the sergeant has told me since that the young woman had supposed that, as he was so long absent, he would never return and had therefore married. She received his letter soon after she was settled, and was made very unhappy by it for a little time; but I am pretty sure (though the sergeant did not say any such thing) that she had not a very warm heart; or, at any rate, that it had never been very warm towards him. He came back, he told us, a year or more before his mother's death, which was a great comfort to them both.
“I think,” said Arthur, “that you must find the world grown very dull now, that there is no war anywhere in Europe. I wonder you are still so fond of the newspapers.”
“Dull, Master Arthur! I wish such a kind of dulness may last lot ever. It is all very well for people who want amusement to run about the village with news of a victory, and to help to make a bonfire and light up the houses. But if they happen to have a son or a brother killed or manned for life, they may learn by experience what it is that thousands and millions are suffering. If they could take but one look at a field of battle, or an army in full retreat, they would wish for no more victories and illuminations. I hope I have as much of the spirit of a soldier in me as any man: and perhaps all the more for having suffered something for my country; but I do say that nations are only half civilized as long as wars are thought necessary. I say, moreover, that they who are foremost in war are farthest from heaven; for heaven is a land of peace.”